Jackie (Derren Nesbitt) is a seventy-four-year-old drag queen who performs every night at this low rent cabaret club in Brighton, telling his ancient jokes and miming to various hits that are almost as old, but it's performing that makes him happy, since there is very little else in his life that does. One night, after another well-received show, he returns home and after a little too much to drink, collapses in his kitchen. However, it is not the alcohol that has landed him this dizzy spell, as he ends up in hospital where the doctor has bad news for him: Jackie really should have had a health check-up before now, as he is suffering an aggressive cancer that has given him a few weeks to live...
Yes, it sounds like a cliché, the character who wins a new lease of life just when they are leaving this world, but there was a lot more to writer and director Jamie Patterson's comedy drama than its plot, as he was keener to explore the personalities and circumstances of his two leads. Two because right after his diagnosis, Jackie is back at the club, naturally not telling anyone about it as he does not have any close friends - and his family are estranged from him - when he meets Faith (Rizzle Kicks' Jordan Stephens branching out from singing to acting), a non-binary performer who represents the new breed of drag performer. Seeing her desperation, soon Jackie is taking Faith under his wing.
Although Stephens won top billing, and served up a creditable account of himself as a proud but vulnerable lost soul, Tucked was really Nesbitt's show, delivering a late career turn that had you wishing he had been offered more opportunities to demonstrate his range in roles like this - more usually, he was the villain thanks to his knack with menace, but here he gave a performance of great humanity which helped paper over what could have been an over-sentimental wallow in self-pity for the odd couple protagonists. Every time it seems like the schmaltz is going to dominate, the film recovers with a waspish line or situation that has genuine humour for appropriate perspective.
Twenty-one-year-old Faith becomes the son Jackie never had, or more accurately the grandson considering their age difference, as the older man gives her a place to stay to stop her sleeping in the back of her car, taking pity on the poor waif which not coincidentally awakens a compassion in him. Jackie does have a daughter (April Pearson), we find out, but she broke off ties with him after he refused to show up for her mother's funeral, though it appears there are more problems between them than that and this incident was the straw that broke the camel's back. The problems with following your muse when it means you neglect important relationships was present in the story, but that could just as easily translate into following your sexuality in the same way, and not simply whether you're straight or gay.
Jackie - Jack - is not gay, he simply loves to dress as a woman, which makes him a transvestite, yet in the years since he started his act, the world has moved on (as evinced by his stand-up material!) and a man dressing as a woman has become more political, a social statement rather than a bit of fun to go and see on a night out. The British traditions of the pantomime dame are turning into an expression of your beliefs and a fluid gender, which renders the central connection, no matter how defensively spiky they are, a surprisingly insightful one. If this was sounding pretty heavy, Patterson did add many moments of humour, from Jackie's groaning gags to such scenes as the funny/scary encounter with a drug dealer (Steve Oram) who asks questions they both would rather not be asked. This director had proven himself to be a powerhouse over a career that started very young, but always under the radar; Tucked changed that, an accomplished production no matter its low budget, and invaluable as a showcase for the still-vital Nesbitt. Music by Richey Rynkowski.